The “Go To” hiking in the Seattle/Tacoma area is Mount Rainer. There are great trails there and the sights are truly amazing. However, it is a long drive to get to these trails and I wanted to check out some of the local trails.
The Sequalitchew Creek Trail is in the small town of DuPont, right across I-5 from Joint Base Lewis-McChord. This is a short trail, (3-mile round trip). The transition from urban to forest and back provides a great distraction from the buzz of urban life.
From the City Hall parking lot, I followed a little trail down through a forested canyon for about one and a half miles. I searched for and discovered several geocaches along the trail. The cool green tunnel was welcome respite on a hot day. At the end of the trail, there is a pebbled beach where there are old rail lines. I took a break for lunch and relaxed while watching the boat traffic in the Tacoma Narrows. Further out on the horizon, I saw some great views of Puget Sound and the mountains beyond.
The Nisqually River Delta, a biologically rich and diverse area at the southern end of Puget Sound, supports a variety of habitats. Here, the freshwater of the Nisqually River combines with the saltwater of Puget Sound to form an estuary rich in nutrients and detritus. These nutrients support a web of sea life – the benefits which extend throughout Puget Sound and beyond.
The Refuge is located eight miles east of Olympia and has four miles of trails. The one–mile accessible Twin Barns Loop Trail is open year round. The Nisqually Estuary Trail is four-mile round trip from the Visitor Center. A portion of this trail is closed seasonally during the waterfowl hunting season. The trails provide views of wildlife habitats and access to observation platforms, a tower, and blind.
Our daughter, Elisabeth, has been out here before and she took Pat and me along to show us the sights. A lot of this refuge is reclaimed land formed when dams and levees were built to create a rich farmland. Eventually the farm failed as a result of many factors and the National Wildlife Refuge was established. Although the visitor center was closed due to the pandemic, the trails were open. The tidal area had a lot of wading birds as well as other wildlife.
I hiked the Outer Loop Trail (4.3 miles). This is the longest trail in the park. I wanted to try out a new backpack and thought this would be a good shakedown for it. The trail is well established and well marked. This trail is used by many walkers, hikers, and runners. Even though it is located in north Tacoma it has the same feeling of many of the trails at Mount Rainer. The views across the Tacoma Narrows are scenic. The deer in the area are very used to people and did not dart off into the trees when I happened across them.
Point Defiance is also home to the Point Defiance Zoo and the Fort Nisqually Living History Museum. The original Fort Nisqually was located in nearby DuPont, home to the Sequalitchew Creek Trail. This replica was built in the 1930’s by the Work Progress Administration (WPA) as a part of the larger Point Defiance Park. The fort is staffed with re-enactors that demonstrate living in the frontier Pacific Northwest.
After spending two months in the south Tacoma (Joint Base Lewis-McChord) area we decided for a change of scenery and traveled to Westport on the Pacific coast. What a change in temperature! We went from hot to generally cool temperatures. Depending on the winds, it got downright cold for short periods.We stayed at the American Sunset RV Park and Campground. Our daughter, Elisabeth, and our daughter-in-law, Sandra, and our granddaughters, Katrina, Clarissa, and Sierra, joined us. Sunset is a nice park, right in the town of Westport, making it very convenient for a number of reasons. The twins, Clarissa and Sierra, are doing summer workouts for fall cross-country; Pat and I like to ride our bikes in the morning; and it is a short drive to shops and dining.
We started out walking along the shore at the entrance to Half-Moon Bay. This wall of boulders is a big line of defense against storm winds and erosion. To say it was fun traversing the boulders was an understatement; our granddaughters love to climb on rocks!
There was an unloaded freighter riding at anchor in the bay, but the big attraction was a kite-boarder. We watched him preparing his rig on the beach and then heading downwind. Even though he was wearing a wetsuit, he still looked COLD!
Sandra and Katrina (oldest granddaughter) had to go back home after a few days. The next day we took the twins kayaking on the John’s River, east of town. It was a great day for kayaking. The current was light enough that we could paddle up and down stream with little effort. On our way back to the boat ramp, we turned off the main channel and wandered through some side channels for a little adventure.
One afternoon, Pat, Elisabeth, granddaughter Sierra, and I hiked some of the trails at Twin Harbors State Park. There is a good-sized network of trails in the park. They pass by some of the campground, the inner dune zone, and onto the beach. The beaches in Washington are busy places. You can expect to see picnickers, clammers (people digging for clams), vehicles driving on the beach, and surfers. Making makeshift shelters from driftwood is also a popular activity.
One afternoon I rode my bike to the Westport Maritime Museum. I am the big museum person in the group and visited this one on my own while the rest relaxed at the RV park. The museum occupies the old Coast Guard Station. This building provided the office and living spaces for the Coast Guardsmen who operated the station. The displays described the life of the Coast Guard and the fishing community in Westport. For me the highlight of the visit was in the building that used to house the lifeboats – it now holds a display of the Destruction Island Lighthouse lens. The Fresnel (pronounced Fruh-nel) Lens was a revolutionary improvement to lighthouses. This unique lens focused a relatively small light so it could be seen for miles. A First Order Lens is the largest and used to mark hazards to ships. The smallest is a Sixth Order Lens and is used to mark docks and other structures in a harbor. The museum has a First Order Lens that has been fully restored. This is the only First Order Lens I have ever seen up close and personal. The docent on duty did an excellent job of explaining the lenses and their uses. For a lighthouse fanatic like me, it was an excellent visit.
That afternoon our son, Scott, joined us and the next day we drove south to Willapa Bay to kayak on Smith Creek. The paddling was great. We paddled upstream until we ran into a logjam that we couldn’t cross. If the tide had been in, we might have been able to explore farther upstream. We paddled downstream until we found a tributary and turned into that. We eventually ran into a dead end and headed back to our launch site. Overall, it was a good time.
On Saturday, we went to the beach at the Westport Light State Park. Going to the beach in Washington is not like going to the beach in Florida. There weren’t many sunbathers as there wasn’t much sun and it was a cool day. There were many surfers as a lot of the local shops offer surfing classes on the weekends. There were strong winds and we brought our kites along to fly. After our time at the beach, we went to the downtown area for ice cream cones. A fitting end to a good day.
Sunday, we packed up and drove to the Holiday Park FAMCAMP at McChord AFB. While at McChord, we reorganized and repacked some of our gear that we used at Westport and relaxed. We had a mobile RV repair come out to work on our air conditioner and, fortunately, it was an easy fix and they were able to repair it onsite.
A week later, we were back at Camp Murray. Our next move will start our journey to Michigan.
For the last several years, we visited the Tacoma, WA area in the summer to see our oldest son, Scott, and daughter, Elisabeth. Then the next summer we would see our other son, David, in Lansing, MI. This year we decided to break the mold and get everyone together in Washington. Dave flew out to join us for a week.
We got everyone together for dinner at our campsite and spent a lot of time catching up and playing games. Sorry, I was too busy enjoying the time to take any pictures!
Scott, and his oldest daughter, Katrina, joined the rest of us (Elisabeth, Dave, Pat and I) to travel to Mount Rainer to hike some of the trails. Our first stop was the Grove of the Patriarchs. This is a small island of HUGE trees. Some are more the 40 feet in diameter and over 300 feet tall. The trail led us to a suspension bridge across the river to the Grove. The National Park Service has limited the bridge to one person at a time. With traffic going in both directions there was quite a wait before we could cross. As I crossed the bridge I recognized the wisdom of this limitation, the bridge was very wiggly as we crossed!
The trees in the Grove are just awesome; to say they are huge is an understatement. These trees are thousands of years old! Where trees have died and fallen, there are new trees growing out of the old trunks.
After we finished the Grove of the Patriarchs, we crossed the road to hike the Silver Falls Loop. What a change from the Patriarchs, with much younger trees on a trail that followed the Ohanapecosh River. We passed several small waterfalls and rapids until we reached Silver Falls. It was a great day for a hike and the scenery was terrific.
On our way out of the park, we stopped at the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center. The Center is at a higher elevation then the Grove and we were treated to a good view of the snowfield at the base of Mount Rainer, even on June 29th! Many of the trails were closed due to the snow. We were able to give Dave a great view of Mount Rainer.
Thursday Dave and I drove to Everett to visit the Boeing Museum of Flight. Dave and I are both aviation junkies and we loved touring the museum. Boeing has done a professional job in displaying their collection.
The T.A. Wilson Great Gallery displays more than fifty historic aircraft from a replica of the Wright Flyer to the M21 Blackbird (a variation of the SR-71 Blackbird). Aircraft are displayed on the floor and suspended from the ceiling. The display discussed the development of aviation and aviation services, such as airmail, crop dusters, and bush pilots.
The J. Elroy McCae Personal Courage Wing displays aircraft from WWI and WWII. While we enjoyed seeing aircraft that have been restored to flying condition, the personal stories of the pilots and commanders were more interesting to me.
The outdoor Aviation Pavilion gave us the opportunity to see large aircraft like the B-17 and B-29. We were able to go inside the Boeing 707 (VC-137) Air Force One that supported Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. Secretary of State Kissinger later used it in his “shuttle diplomacy” for the Vietnam and the Middle East. We were also able to tour the original Boeing 747, Boeing 787 Dreamliner, and Boeing 727.
Our final stop was the “Red Barn,” the original Boeing manufacturing plant. Inside we were able to see some of the original tools and replicas of aircraft of the era under construction.
On Friday, we celebrated Dave’s birthday with a special meal and Saturday we were up before dawn to take Dave to the airport. It was a great visit and even better to have our whole family in one place, even for a short time.
It was nice to celebrate Father’s Day with my daughter and oldest son. Scott is also a father, so we were both able to choose what we would like to eat. We all met at our campsite at Camp Murray Beach, where we had a great view of American Lake.
The next day we drove to the southern part of the Mount Saint Helens Volcanic Park to hike through Ape Cave. My first thought was, “Why is it called Apr Cave?” Ape Cave is actually a lava tube. A lava tube is a cylindrical cave formed by flowing lava from a volcanic vent that moves beneath the hardened surface of a lava flow. As the lava in the tube empties, it creates a cave.
This particular lava tube was discovered by Lawrence Johnson in late 1951 when he almost drove his tractor into it. He told his friend, Harry Reese. Over the next few years Reese and his sons explored the cavern. The Reese boys were members of the Mount St. Helens Apes, a local outdoor club, and they led many visitors through the tube during the 1950s. Eventually the lava tube was named the “Apr Cave” to honor these early explorers.
What makes Ape Cave unique from other caves we have explored was that there are no artificial lights in this cave system. The only light is provided by your own flashlights and headlamps. We began with the Lower Cave. It’s a broad lava tube that descends gently to its end. The floor is flat (though a bit uneven at first), then sandy later on from a mud flow that filled the lower portion centuries ago. The end of the cave now is where the sand has filled in to within a couple feet of the ceiling. The Lower Cave is an easy walk, for a 1.5 mile round trip.
From the end of the Lower Cave we retraced our steps to the Upper Cave. It’s a 1.5 rugged miles one way, requiring significantly more time, caution, and some physical agility. It is a more interesting route, with the lava tube shape, size, and geology changing frequently. The passage encounters many rock piles. You must climb up, over, or around the rocks, taking care not to twist an ankle or, in some places, bump your head. After the first rock pile most of us had had enough, but our granddaughter, Sierra, wanted to continue. She and her parents finished the journey, overcoming the many rock piles and obstacles along the way. Some day, I want to go back and hike this part of the cave system.
We arrived in Washington on May 26th and set up at the Camp Murray Beach RV Park. Camp Murray is the Headquarters of the Washington National Guard and the RV park is operated by the Washington National Guard Association. Camp Murray is our favorite campground in the area. All the sites are full hookups and on the shore of American Lake. We lucked out on our campsite and got Site A-1. This, in my opinion, is the best site in the park. It is the only site that has your door facing the lake and is easy to back into.
Family was our reason for visiting the area. Our oldest son and his family (including our three granddaughters), and our daughter live in the area. We wanted to be there in time for the year-end school activities.
Several years ago, our granddaughters got involved in wrestling, first as a club sport and now in high school. As with most sports, the girls have had a shortened season and had to follow COVID-19 protocols. They wore masks while wrestling, the number of visitors was limited, and we had to enroll in contact tracing before we could enter the gymnasium. All three girls are very skilled wrestlers and win their matches pretty consistently. Because there are fewer girls involved in the sport, they sometimes wrestle with boys that are in their weight class. While they don’t always win these bouts, it does give them a good opportunity to improve their skills. I think they did enjoy competing against boys and winning!
The primary reason we wanted to get to the area so early was that our oldest granddaughter, Katrina, was graduating from high school – at sixteen years old! We are all so proud of her. She has been able to take classes at Tacoma Community College in addition to her high school classes and, as a result, will also graduate from Tacoma Community College with two Associate Degrees. Her plans are to attend college at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.
COVID-19 had an impact on her graduation. The graduation ceremony was held in four sessions to reduce the number of students, parents and guests in attendance. At that ceremony each student was presented with their diploma folder. The next day, they had a drive through at the high school where the students picked up their actual diploma. It was fun to help decorate the car and watch the procession of cars past the high school.
While staying in Boise, ID we checked out a new campground, the RV park at Gowen Field. Gowen Field is the Headquarters of the Idaho National Guard and operates an RV park with seven sites. It’s small but nice. All of the sites are paved and full hookups and the proceeds support the base Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) program. There is a small convenience store nearby and the base gym is right across the road with a fitness track and all kinds of equipment. It was nice to walk around the base and then ride a stationary bike to finish my workout.
One of Pat’s cousins used to be stationed here and still lives in the area. We were able to visit with him and have lunch. I was enjoying the conversation so much I forgot to take any pictures.
The next day we drove to the Old Idaho Penitentiary. If you are ever in this area, I highly recommend this historic site. We were able to tour the various cell blocks and see how prisoners were housed and treated over the years. We attended a slide presentation on the history of the prison that was very interesting and informative. Would you believe that an architect who was a prisoner designed the prison dining facility? You can visit the maximum-security cell block that housed death row and the gallows. When I think of gallows, I imagine a large wooden structure, but this was nothing more than a room with a trap door in the floor and a huge eyebolt in the ceiling to attach the noose. Hanging was the most frequent method for applying a death sentence.
After that, we had lunch at a classic Boise restaurant, the Boise Fry Company. After all, we are in potato country and what could be better than an order of Idaho potatoes with a side of hamburger?
On Saturday, May 27th we headed farther west for the Deschutes State Recreation Area in Oregon.
The Deschutes State Recreation Area in Oregon is at the confluence of the Deschutes River and the Columbia River. The campground is right on the shore of the Deschutes River and is an idyllic setting. The temperatures were cool and comfortable but the winds were blowing hard every day. We were able to hike every morning along hiking trails that paralleled the river and we had some great views. We spent most of our time enjoying the nature in the area, but did take some time to visit a nearby winery.
My only issue with the park is that there is no dump station and the closest dump station is twelve miles away at the Port of The Dalles. No a big problem, but I wish we had noticed it in our planning.
On Wednesday, May 26th we headed out on our last leg of this trip. Next stop is Camp Murray Beach Campground near Tacoma, WA.
Lake Havasu has been highlighted on many of the RV groups that I follow on Facebook. In reading the various posts, I was intrigued by the place and always wanted to visit. This year worked out to be the best time to do that.
In 1938, Lake Havasu was formed by the Parker Dam on the Colorado River to store water for two aqueducts, and provide hydroelectric power. It is a very popular boating area.
On our first day in Lake Havasu State Park, the high temperature was 100°. We hid inside our air-conditioned trailer. We looked at the weather forecast and determined that the winds would be low the next morning so the next day, we woke up early when the temperatures would be cooler, and rode our bikes to the London Bridge and onto the island. We rode past a few RV parks and I was happy we were staying at the state park. The state park may not have full hookup sites, but the individual sites are more spread out and it feels like you are camping.
In the afternoon, I toured the Lake Havasu Museum of History. This is a small, but well organized museum that made it very easy to understand how the area was developed. I was amazed how much the area owed to two visionary men, Robert McCulloch and C.V. Wood.
The community started as an Army Air Corps recreation camp on the shores of Lake Havasu, called “Site Six,” during World War II. In 1963, Robert McCulloch, owner of McCulloch Motors, was flying over Lake Havasu looking for a place to test his outboard engines. He thought that the land surrounding Lake Havasu had great potential for an emerging city. Lake Havasu City was established on September 30, 1963. McCulloch and developer C.V. Wood joined efforts and founded what would be a thriving community. C.V. Wood had previously designed the Disneyland amusement park in Anaheim, California.
In 1964, there was only one unimproved road into the city. McCulloch needed a way to get prospective buyers to the new city so he chose air charter. Between 1964 and 1978, 2,702 flights brought 137,000 potential land buyers to Lake Havasu City. This huge sales push that targeted mainly people from colder states. In 1978, the last parcel of land was sold, and the city was incorporated. By 1981, Lake Havasu City boasted a population of 17,000. In subsequent years, the city experienced population growth at a steady flow of about 1,000 people annually. Most came in search of refuge from big cities to enjoy Lake Havasu City’s laid-back lifestyle. McCulloch even moved his chainsaw manufacturing operation to Lake Havasu to provide the community with a core business to build the economy.
Lake Havasu City’s claim to fame is the London Bridge. This purchase did not come out of a sudden impulse. The London Bridge built in 1833 in London, England was gradually sinking into the River Thames and had been for sale by the London Council for quite some time. McCulloch placed his bid for the bridge of 2.4 million dollars in 1968. Completing the project took three years. Each block was marked and numbered, then shipped through the Panama Canal, unloaded in California, and transported to Arizona. The bridge was reassembled by matching the numbered stones. The bridge was built as a conventional structure and covered with the original granite to retain its antique look. The bridge was reconstructed on a dry piece of land. The land was then dredged from underneath the bridge, creating Bridgewater Channel and “The Island” across the bridge. On October 10, 1971, the completed bridge was formally dedicated in a ceremony attended by over 50,000 American and British spectators and dignitaries.
The next day we decided to walk and I was able to check out some of the lighthouse replicas that line the shore on the island and the mainland. When one thinks of lighthouse locations, they rarely consider a landlocked, desert state such as Arizona for their location, but it just so happens that Lake Havasu City is home to more lighthouses than any other city in the entire country. These scaled-down replicas are actual functioning navigational aids built to the specifications of famous lighthouses on the East Coast, West Coast and Great Lakes. The Lake Havasu Lighthouse Club is a non-profit group of independent citizens dedicated to the preservation, improvement and promotion of Lake Havasu and the City. They wanted to make the lake a safe place for night boating and fishing. Instead of just settling on simple and mundane lighthouses that could be cheaply produced, they took pride in their development and chose to highlight the famous lighthouses in the U.S. by making smaller replica lighthouses. These fully-functional replica lighthouses make an already adventurous boating experience even more beautiful and unique. All of the lighthouses on the west side of Lake Havasu are replicas of famous lighthouses on the West Coast, while the east side consists of East Coast replicas. The lighthouses around the island are all replicas of lighthouses from the Great Lakes.
On our fourth day the winds were low again and we launched our kayaks from a small beach a few sites away from our own. As we paddled around the island, we saw the ferry to the California side of the Colorado River. There was a lot of boat traffic on the lake, including many “cigarette boats” that didn’t believe in mufflers. You could hear them coming a long way off. It was a longer paddle than we planned on, but quite interesting. At one spot, we pulled in for a short rest. The local groups are doing their best to keep the area clean. They provide stands with large trash bags to prevent littering. It was pretty sad that I was able to almost fill one bag with trash that included two other partially filled bags that had been left behind. Ours ended up in a dumpster.
We try to go out to eat at least once wherever we stay and we chose a place called the Burgers By the Bridge. It was in the English Village, in the shadow of the London Bridge. Our table was a surfboard and we had a view of the boat traffic on the channel as we ate.
On Monday, we paddled down the Bridgewater Channel under the London Bridge and walked on a trail along the shore. It was a great day for a paddle and to see some different sites along the trail. We enjoyed cooling off with a short swim at “our” beach. These short dips sure helped to deal with the 90 plus degree temperatures we had been feeling all week.
Tuesday morning we made a relatively short drive to Nellis Air Force Base, near Las Vegas.
When we got to Nellis AFB, we breathed a sigh of relief – there were mature trees in the campground and we had a couple that provided shade on the trailer. The FAMCAMP at Nellis AFB has received recognition for its quality and customer service, and continues to deliver on that reputation.
Nellis AFB is home to the USAF Weapons Center and is the host of the Red Flag exercises that train fighter pilots from the United States and around the world. Nellis is also the home of the Air Force Demonstration Team, the Thunderbirds. The Thunderbirds have been representing the Air Force as ambassadors since 1953. There is a small museum at the headquarters.
Our primary purpose for stopping in Las Vegas was to see some friends from our RV caravan to Alaska in 2014. We met George and Ann for dinner and caught up on how they had been dealing with the pandemic. One of the stories they shared was that as they were driving to an airport to board a flight to Ecuador, they received a call telling them not to board their flight because their tour had been canceled. Talk about cutting it close! We had a great visit and we may be able to see them again in the fall.
On Tuesday we headed north for Gowan Field in Boise, Idaho.
Our next major stop after Big Bend National Park was supposed to be Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, AZ. Because the distance was too far to travel in one day, we had to plan an overnight stop, and we felt the RV Park at Fort Bliss in El Paso, TX was the best option. Neither Fort Bliss nor Davis-Monthan takes reservations. We called Fort Bliss and were told they were averaging ten empty campsites every day so we were comfortable with that, believing we should have no problem getting a site. However, we called Davis-Monthan several times and got no answers or return calls from our messages. We did not want to have to spend time in their overflow without hookups in the high temperatures that were forecasted, so we extended our stay at Fort Bliss.
We had stayed at Fort Bliss previously and had done most of the sightseeing. Rather than see the same sights again, I made an extensive list of all of the maintenance that needed to be done on the truck and trailer, and went to work. I accomplished a lot that week!
The inconsistent actions taken to deal with the pandemic continue to amaze me. Even though the fitness centers around Fort Bliss are open, including their bathrooms and the Post Exchange complex is open with its bathroom, the bathrooms in the campground were closed. Go figure!
After a week at Fort Bliss, we were squared away on our maintenance and, even though we hadn’t heard anything from Davis-Monthan, we pulled out and headed west. Oops, we didn’t get as early a start as we planned. As we were doing the last steps to leave, one of our slide outs refused to retract. I was able to manually retract the slide out and we decided continue with our journey and attempt to do a repair at Davis-Monthan or Lake Havasu.
We checked into the campground at Davis-Monthan and discovered their phones had been out of order for several weeks, hence the unanswered calls. Fortunately they had plenty of full hookup sites available. As soon as we were set up I made a phone call to the dealer from whom we had purchased our trailer and discussed the problem with their service department. Based on that, I decided to try to repair the problem myself. After I removed the fabric underbelly from that part of the trailer, through trail and error I was able to diagnose the problem. Apparently three screws had worked loose and fallen out, or they had never been in place. Regardless the device that is supposed to retract the slide out had become detached. I made a quick trip to the nearest hardware store and purchased what I needed to repair the problem. The next morning I verified everything I had done worked and closed up the underbelly. For a whopping $2.17 I was able to fix a problem that would have cost a couple of hundred dollars through an RV repair shop.
Our primary reason for visiting Davis-Monthan was to visit the “Boneyard.” The Boneyard is acres of mothballed airplanes from all services. Davis-Monthan is the logical choice for a major storage facility. The geology of the desert allows aircraft to be moved around without having to pave the storage areas. The area’s low humidity in the 10%-20% range, meager rainfall of 11″ annually, hard alkaline soil, and high altitude of 2,550 feet all allow the aircraft to be naturally preserved for cannibalization or possible reuse, Davis-Monthan AFB’s role in the storage of military aircraft began after World War II. By May of 1946, more than 600 B-29 Superfortresses and 200 C-47 Skytrains had been moved to Davis-Monthan. The organization responsible for these aircraft was called the 2704th Air Force Storage and Disposition Group. In 1985, the facility’s name was changed to the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center as outdated ICBM missiles also entered storage at Davis-Monthan. It is the sole aircraft boneyard and parts reclamation facility for all excess military and government aircraft in the United States. The boneyard’s typical inventory comprises more than 4,400 aircraft, making it the largest aircraft boneyard in the world.
Unfortunately, bus tours of the Boneyard have been put on hold due to the pandemic. However, the campground is right on the edge of the Boneyard and I was able to see row after row of aircraft, both fixed and rotary wing, jet and propeller-driven. I saw one B-1 Lancer bomber that was in the beginning stages of being mothballed.
We were able to tour the Pima Air and Space Museum. Anyone who loves aviation will love this museum. The first airplane I saw was one that I wanted for my own. It was one that could be built in a home garage from a kit. Many of the early planes were like that, designed to be built by private owners. There were more aircraft than I have ever seen in any one museum, with the exception of the National Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH. The displays are well maintained and informative, covering military and civilian aircraft.
The outdoor displays were numerous, with aircraft of various roles, from many countries. The high temperatures and sun had us seeking shade whenever possible. There are multiple buildings in the complex, and the one I found most interesting was dedicated to 390th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force. I have never seen such an in-depth display of an organization’s history. If you visit the museum, do not miss this separate museum!
The next morning we were happy to be able to retract all of our slide outs and we hit the road for Lake Havasu, AZ.
Big Bend National Park had been on my “to do” list for years. This year our route from Florida to Washington State made that stop possible. Big Bend is right on the Rio Grande River and shares a border with Mexico. Big Bend refers to the southwest Texas U-turn in the Rio Grande River – something that defines the park boundary for 118 miles. There are campgrounds in the park, but only one can handle a rig of our size. We were unable to make a reservation, so we had to stay in a commercial park, Big Bend Resort and Adventures, in nearby Terlingua.
If you plan to visit Big Bend, be prepared to do a lot of driving. The park covers a lot of ground, 1251 square miles, and some of the most direct routes are unimproved roads. During the four days we were there, we drove over 150 miles in the park.
Big Bend Resort and Adventures is as nice a park as you will find here. If you want big shade trees, green lawns and level concrete pads, you are in the wrong part of the country. This park is well organized, clean, and the staff was great.
We explored taking a raft or kayak trip down the Rio Grande, but discovered that the water levels were too low for that. In fact, the local raft companies had cancelled their one-day trips and only offered 2-3 hour trips. We decided that kayaking would have to wait until we found some good water.
We decided to drive down the unimproved Old Maverick Road to the Santa Elena Canyon. The road was rough and wash boarded, but not terrible. We explored some side roads, looking for blooming flowers on the cacti. The Santa Elena Canyon Trail is an easy hike, but scenic. It follows the Rio Grande River. It is interesting to look across the shallow and narrow river that is easy to wade and see Mexico. Of course, in the canyon, there is no way to exit the river into Mexico, as the canyon walls are sheer cliffs.
From Santa Elena, we drove along the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive to the Castolon Visitor Center. There wasn’t much to see here as much of the complex had been destroyed in a fire in May, 2019. The rebuilding is still in the early stages. We stopped to eat lunch in the Cottonwood Campground and it was obvious that we would have never fit into any of the campsites. We did enjoy a picnic lunch under a shade tree.
From there we drove north along the Maxwell Drive through the Mule Ears lookout, and stopped at the Homer Wilson Ranch. I was struck by the hardships that the early ranchers had to endure to make a life in this area. The Sam Nail Ranch was our last stop, here we saw where Sam and Nena Nail dug a well with a windmill to pump the water, built livestock pens, planted a garden, and dealt with drought, predators, and isolation.
The next day we drove the entire width of the park to the eastern end, to the Rio Grande Village. We began by hiking the Boquillas (Bo-KEY-las) Canyon Trail. Boquillas is a Mexican village, just across the Rio Grande. During non-COVID times, visitors could cross the river at a Point of Entry and shop in Boquillas; however, the border crossing has been closed due to the pandemic. To make up for the loss of income, families from Boquillas have set up small camps on the Mexican side and ride across in canoes or horseback to set up small “stores,” some attended and some not. There were even a couple of men on horseback selling fresh tamales. The river was clear and reportedly has some great fishing. The canyon walls were interesting, with caves caused by erosion.
Our next stop was the Rio Grande Village where we hiked the nature trail that began with a beaver pond. Beavers in this area do not make beaver huts like they do up north, but tunnel into the riverbank. They do build dams that create these ponds. It was amazing to see this green oasis in the middle of the desert. In the space of a few miles we walked through a pond with fish and turtles, rocky foothills, and barren desert. Talk about a diverse ecosystem!
We ate lunch in an empty campsite near the trailhead. As we were eating, a javelin (a wild pig) approached from the other side of the road. It was ironic, I had just finished reading a notice to not leave food outside because of javalinas and now we had one almost walk up to us!
On our way out, we stopped at the Dugout Wells. Here we hiked a short nature trail and saw another example of the challenges that the early settlers faced. Around 1900 a settler dug a well and improved the flow with a windmill.
We didn’t think we were going to be able to hike in the central part of the park, the Chisos Basin. The whole area had been closed due to a fire on the south rim of the canyon. Fortunately, they reopened it shortly after our arrival. It had been getting hotter every day, and the road to the Chisos Basin area was being resurfaced and was closed between 8:00 and 11:00, so we decided to get there before the road closed. We arrived at the campground about 7:45 and began hiking the Windows Trail. We saw the sunrise on our drive out and we were able to see it again over the mountains as we began our descent along the trail. It was nice to hike in the cool morning. The trail was interesting with a variety of plants along the way. The end of the trail was amazing! The canyon wall opened up in a window that overlooked the basin.
Our last day was forecasted to be the hottest day of our stay and we planned for a day off. The winds were light in the morning and we took advantage of that to ride our bikes. I integrated some geocaching with my ride and found a geocache called the Dinosaur Egg. It was an easy find, but required a little rock climbing to reach it.
The next morning we were on our way to Fort Bliss in El Paso, TX
After a few weeks of some fairly active sightseeing, we were ready for some relaxation. Staying at the RV park at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio seemed to fill that need. Fort Sam Houston is home to the Army’s Medical Corps and it is very busy with soldiers (as well as sailors and airmen) attending basic and advanced medical training courses. The RV park is very nice and in a remote section of the post. There is a nice office with a lending library and lounging area, although the lounging area was closed due to the pandemic. (I am going to be so glad to be able to stop using that phrase, “due to the pandemic.”)
There were routes we could use for biking and walking, I even found a wooded trail that made me feel like I was on a hike.
Two of the more popular tourist attractions are the Alamo and the Riverwalk. We had done these on previous visits, but I wanted to see the Alamo again. I was glad that we did as they had expanded the exhibits and I learned things about the era and the battle of which I had not been aware. I am still impressed that many of the men who fought and died in the Alamo were not from Texas, but were seeking a new life and were willing to fight for it. They had the opportunity to leave before Santa Anna attacked, but were willing to sacrifice themselves to give General Sam Houston and the brand new Texas Army a chance to prepare.
Later in the week we decided to ride the San Antonio River Trail to tour the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. In the 1700s Franciscan monks (members of the Order of Saint Francis of Assisi) established a chain of missions along the San Antonio River. The mission system sought to bring Indians into the Spanish society and the Christian faith. Financed by the Spanish Crown, the missions served both the church and state. The missions became communities for native Indian tribes and centers of commerce. They were also military posts, protecting the mission communities from marauding Indian tribes of Apache and Comanche. All of the missions shared common designs in that they were surrounded by a wall to protect them from Indian attack, a central area that served as a trading center, a church with lodging for the Franciscan monks.
The Hike & Bike Trail winds alongside the San Antonio River through old neighborhoods and farmlands. Dedicated paved pathways that connect the missions along the river are reserved for bikes and pedestrians only. The Hike & Bike Trail is an easy walk or ride and is suitable even for children.
We began our ride at the Mission San Juan Capistrano. This is the third in the series of mission from San Antonio, and was established in 1731. By 1762 there were 203 Indians residing in the mission. They attempted to build a second church at the mission in 1772, but construction was stopped in 1786.
We rode north, toward San Antonio, and our next stop was the Mission San Jose. This mission was founded1720. At its peak in 1768, there were 350 Indians from three tribes living within the mission in 84 two-room apartments in the perimeter wall. The limestone church and “convento,” where the monks lived, are the centerpiece of the mission. The Rose Window is the premier feature of the church.
The third mission we visited is Mission Concepcion. This is the closest to San Antonio and is one of the country’s oldest stone churches. This mission and the others combined the teachings of Catholic Spain with native cultures, giving rise to the unique culture of South Texas. The perimeter walls and other buildings are gone and all that remains is the central church building.
From there we rode the rest of the way into downtown San Antonio for a special treat. We stopped at Schilo’s, a German restaurant near the Riverwalk. It is famous for its homemade root beer and each of us enjoyed one of their root beer floats.
We then retraced our route to Mission San Juan where we loaded our bikes back into the truck and drove to Mission San Francisco de la Espada. This is the fourth and farthest from San Antonio. In addition to the monks and Indians, there were eight Spanish soldiers stationed there to teach the Indians how to defend the mission. In 1826, a band of Comanche raided the cornfields and killed the livestock. The same year, a kitchen fire destroyed most of the buildings.
All of these missions continue to serve their communities, conducting worship services and ministering to the local population.
We rode over twenty miles, enjoyed some beautiful weather, learned a lot about the history of the area, and enjoyed a special dessert. What a great day!
On April 20th we headed west to visit Big Bend National Park.